Millions of people on this planet claim to have been abducted by aliens. About two hundred of them (alleged abductees, that is) will converge on Portland this weekend, for the second annual Experiencers Speak conference, organized by and for people who say they’ve been kidnapped by — or had close encounters with — extraterrestrials.
Among those who plan to attend the two-day symposium are Travis Walton, the logger whose UFO experience was portrayed in the 1993 film Fire in the Sky; Jim Weiner, one of four young men who saw a UFO and “lost time” (presumably due to abduction) during a 1976 camping trip in Allagash, Maine; and Kathleen Marden, director of abduction research for the Mutual UFO Network, a national organization dedicated to researching UFO sightings. Marden is also the niece of Betty and Barney Hill, the New Hampshire couple who claimed to have been seized by aliens in September 1961 near Franconia Notch. Many more will come to share their own stories, and be validated by others; last year’s Experiencers Speak event in Gorham attracted about 150 attendees.
“People really need to talk about it and realize that they’re not alone,” says Audrey Hewins of Mechanic Falls, the lead organizer of the conference and founder of Starborn Support, a group that exists to help those who say they’ve met ETs. “We like to get them to a point where they accept who they are and are able to function in society.”
Hewins, 40, describes herself as a “lifelong abductee,” who, along with her identical twin sister, has “been taken [repeatedly] since early childhood.” After years of trying to repress the memories (she calls it “stuffing”) she and her sister reached out to the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), and a representative from that organization put both sisters under hypnosis (separately), helping them to access often-traumatizing memories of visits from “beings” with big, motionless, almond-shaped eyes and bald heads. Over time, through hypnosis, Hewins began to recall experiences of being paralyzed, lifted, and brought onto a spacecraft — all at extraterrestrial hands.
Although Hewins likens “Post-Abduction Syndrome” (PAS) to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), her interactions with the otherworldly beings weren’t always hostile; in fact, it was one of them that suggested she launch Starborn Support in 2006. Today, there are chapters in 10 states along the east coast, along with a Starborn streaming radio program.
“This isn’t something you can tell your family members without having them question you,” says Kathleen Marden, of MUFON, who co-coordinates a peer-facilitated support group for experiencers in Florida. “Some people receive very negative feedback” from loved ones such as ridicule or ostracization (not to mention lay diagnosis of “totally insane”).
In fact, Marden herself was a skeptic when she started to research her Aunt Betty and Uncle Barney’s story more than two decades ago. “If I could have found information that this was all just an honest mistake or misinterpretation, I would have been very pleased. This was very upsetting to the family,” she recalls. But her relatives’ account of a bright, star-like object that seemed to be following them, loud rhythmic buzzing, several unaccounted-for hours, and Betty’s subsequent vivid dreams were enough to convince Marden, who has a degree in social work from the University of New Hampshire. In her investigations, Marden employs “forensic hypnosis,” a technique she says used to be admissible in court. “In the end, I was not able to prove that it was simply a mistake. There was overwhelming evidence that in fact led me to believe that this was a real event.”